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TV: Five shows worth watching tonight: February 5

A select viewing guide for Tuesday, February 5

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COMEDY Betty White’s Second Annual 90 th Birthday Special (NBC, 8 p.m.) Comfort-food programming on a cold winter’s night, this special pays glowing homage to comedy veteran Betty White, who notched her 91 st birthday two weeks ago. The format features birthday salutations from an extended list of luminaries, including Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin and former U.S. president Bill Clinton, interspersed with clips from the old dear’s TV career–which, incredibly, began in 1949! The highlight: country star Blake Shelton croons a customized musical tribute to the birthday girl, who sits beside him smiling and blushing like a giddy teenager.

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DOCUMENTARY Pioneers of Television (PBS, 9 p.m.) Anybody out there old enough to remember when miniseries were the major events on television? Tonight’s closing episode of this retrospective series rewinds back to the seventies and eighties when serialized stories based on bestselling novels were the biggest tickets in primetime. The program includes current interviews with LeVar Burton, Louis Gossett Jr. and other stars of the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries Roots, with similar reverence paid to the TV epics Rich Man, Poor Man (1976), The Winds of War (1983) and The Thorn Birds (1983). Weirdly, Richard Chamberlain looks younger today.

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DRAMA Smash (NBC, CTV Two, 9 p.m.) Take your seats for act two of NBC’s attempt to introduce American viewers to Broadway-style theatre. Launched to critical acclaim and abysmal ratings last winter, Smash focused on the tireless efforts of a handful of painfully creative types to mount a musical, called “Bombshell,” based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Tonight’s second-season opener finds the harried producer Eileen (Anjelica Huston) and lyricist-composer duo of Julia (Debra Messing) and Tom (Christian Borle) back from a successful test run in Boston, which somehow works against their show opening in New York. Meanwhile, Bombshell star Karen (Katharine McPhee) seeks stage advice from the savvy Broadway veteran Veronica (Jennifer Hudson).

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COMEDY Tosh.0 (Comedy Network, 10 p.m.) Welcome to the nasty underside of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Launched in 2009, this show is hosted by standup comedian Daniel Tosh, who delivers biting commentary to mostly unpleasant viral videos plucked from various sources on the Internet. The reason to watch: Each episode features a “Web Redemption” segment in which Tosh gives the subjects of notorious videos the opportunity to restate their case (or not run into a wall while skateboarding) while the whole world watches. In tonight’s fifth-season openers, Tosh provides a second chance to the pugnacious youth known as “Angry Ginger Kid,” whose sputtering vitriol against the animated series South Park earned him fleeting fame (and also a scathing portrayal on South Park).

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MOVIE Cabaret (TCM, 10:15 p.m. ET; 7:15 p.m. PT) What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play! Directed by Bob Fosse, this sprightly musical steamrolled the competition at the 1973 Academy Awards, winning eight out of ten nominated categories (a feat even more impressive considering the other nominated films included The Godfather, Deliverance and The Poseidon Adventure). Liza Minnelli collected a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the American singer Sally Bowles, who performs nightly at Berlin’s raucous Kit Kat Club, circa 1931. While German marches headlong into Nazi, Sally sets her sights on the priggish Englishman David (Michael York) who moves into her boarding house. Joel Grey also earned a Best Supporting Oscar as the androgynous Kit Kat emcee who also serves as the story’s narrator.

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